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Pack your trial bag and head out on the road to ‘Civil Gideon’

I tried, I really did. I was going to write a short blog post with a few quick and pithy tips for the young litigator. I have a thousand of them. Google my name and give me a call.

But the post, as I wrote it, went in a different direction because I noted the Court of Appeals changed the Maryland Rules of Civil Procedure (specifically Rule 1-325) in a way that may allow greater access to the court system for poor Marylanders. And that worked its way into my train of thought:

TIPS — If you are going to court with some frequency, get a rolling trial bag/attaché. You are going to want to come to court ready to meet any exigency that may arise. That means you will be carrying an inordinate amount of material with you. Especially in the early stages of practice, it will be comforting to bring along a trove of documents, pleading clips and memoranda. This is fine but have your documents organized and ready to go.

In many instances, there will be very little time to get to counsel’s table and begin your argument once your case is called. This is particularly true when your hearing is but one among many on the court’s calendar. Be prepared. Know your case and arguments and know the opposition’s case and arguments. It is easier to deconstruct your opponent’s arguments if you know its strengths and weaknesses.

WHAT’S IN YOUR BAG? — Now, to dive into the trial bag. One of the items I bring to court with me is a copy of the Maryland Rules – usually just Volume 1. But the savvy litigator should beware of the printed volumes. By the time they hit your bag, certain rules may have been superseded. In fact, I just received my set of the 2015 Maryland Rules and they are already outdated. I would not go so far as saying they are en toto obsolete but there have been amendments and substitutions that post date the printing.

RULES CHANGE — So, why do I know that my nearly new copies of the Maryland Rules are outdated? I checked the Maryland Judiciary’s website for Proposed Rule Changes and Recent Rules Orders. Yes, I like to cruise around the Judiciary website – particularly for new appellate opinions and Rules orders. I do this to keep up on changes to the law and procedure but it also provides inspiration for marketing emails, client case alerts and, yes, blog posts. You can also impress your colleagues with your vast knowledge of recent legal events. This month, you could have been the first to know that the Court of Appeals issued an opinion relating to extrajudicial identification of criminal defendants via photo arrays. Follow the link above and read the startling and tragic facts in Smiley v. State.

THE ROAD TO CIVIL GIDEON? — In any event, among the recent rule changes, I was struck with the rescinding and replacement of Rule 1-325 relating to the waiver of costs for indigent individuals. The new rule should assist impecunious clients and the pro bono attorneys that represent them to receive prompt determinations as to the waiver of filing fees. Indeed, if the individual is represented by an attorney retained through programs on a list submitted by the Maryland Legal Services Corporation, the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau or the Office of the Public Defender there is a procedure for the clerk of the court to waive filing fees without need for a court order.

The new rule also provides that circuit and district courts must consider the Maryland Legal Services Corporation income guidelines when determining whether to waive filing fees. This should promote some measure of uniformity across Maryland for determining when filing fees will be waived. This is a good reform and one that was promoted by the Maryland Access to Justice Commission.  It took a few years but the Rule was enacted. Maybe this will be a small step toward Civil Gideon